- Associated Press - Monday, March 28, 2016

WATERBURY, Conn. (AP) - The Connecticut Board of Pardons and Paroles denied a request Monday from a murder convict to shorten his sentence, making him eligible for parole sooner as allowed under a new state law affecting juvenile offenders.

Nicolas Aponte was 17 in 1995 when he participated in a deadly robbery with three other teens.

The family of David Horan, the 28-year-old victim, said despite Aponte’s age at the time, he should have known his actions could have deadly consequences.

“Please stop hammering on this assertion that lethal, deliberate crimes committed by those younger than 18 are somehow different,” said Horan’s father John, whose comments were read into the record on Monday. He said the seriousness of the crime should make Aponte ineligible for early release.

While impressed with Aponte’s efforts behind bars to improve his life, the board decided after about 30 minutes of closed-door deliberations there were no extraordinary circumstances that warranted a shorter sentence.

Aponte and the other teens robbed a North Haven Subway sandwich shop where David Horan was an assistant manager. While Aponte’s cousin was the shooter, the prosecutors considered Aponte the ringleader. He was treated by the courts as an adult and sentenced to 38 years without parole. He is now 38 years old and has served 20 years in prison.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that it is unconstitutional to sentence juveniles to lengthy prison terms with no chance for parole. A state law enacted last year in response to the ruling will allow Aponte to eventually have a parole hearing, likely in 2017 or 2018. On Monday, he asked the board to consider reducing his 38-year sentence to 35 years to give him an earlier parole hearing.

Aponte is one of about 200 Connecticut inmates affected by the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, known as Miller v. Alabama.

Aponte told the board, via a video feed from prison, that he has matured behind bars. During the last two decades he has earned his GED, associate’s degree and has become a certified nurse’s aide and hospice volunteer. He spoke about fully taking responsibility for the crime, “moving from denial to redeeming myself” after reading letters from the Horan family in 1998.

“I entered prison as a reckless teenager. When I look back, I don’t recognize him,” Aponte said. “I know that was the worst version of myself, and I’ve grown and survived my transgression.”

Horan’s siblings, however, questioned whether Aponte has truly repented for his role in the killing, accusing him of using the court decision as another attempt to reduce his culpability in the crime. They spoke about their brother’s hopes to return to college and study engineering. They spoke of the girlfriend he might have married and how all of his dreams went unrealized.

Aponte said he’d probably argue against his release if he were a member of the Horan family.

“Because that’s the justice that they deserve and I would understand that,” he said, adding how it was difficult for him to ask the board for clemency. “I think that sometimes maybe I don’t deserve anything.”

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